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Short Stories

Inspiration at the Beach May 2019

Having recently tumbled down the dark hole of blocked imagination and elusive words, a friend and I traveled to the beach hoping the waves would carry the inspiration we needed to unleash buried ideas.  Could the carefree winds loosen our mind-grip and whisper flowing words we could use to form sentences?  Would the pelican’s low-pitched squawk warm our souls with emotions allowing them to the surface, spilling lyrics on the page?

We decided to stop off at a local beachfront coffee shop with notebooks and pens in hands. Inside the miniscule space were four wooden, no-back bar stools below a plank countertop facing the water. There was standing room for about six people. I pondered my muffin options displayed in the glass case.  While considering my choices, Mr. Hunk Construction Worker walked in behind me.

I turned to him, “Go ahead, I haven’t decided yet.”

Mr. Hunk Construction Worker ordered a blueberry muffin and an Americano. Ms. Barista bagged his muffin, handed it to him and turned to me, “Have you decided?”

“I know I want a latte. Please make that and then I’ll decide on which muffin I’d like.”

Waiting for his warm brew, Mr. Hunk Construction Worker took a couple bites of his muffin. When Ms. Barista handed the Americano to him, he asked, “Did I ask for a blueberry muffin?”

“Yes.”

“This is a chocolate chip muffin,” he said, showing her the muffin, two bites missing.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Let me get you a blueberry one.”

“No, it’s okay,” from the mouth of Mr. Hunk Construction Worker.

“No, I insist. Let me get you the one you ordered. It’s my birthday today,” announced Ms. Barista.

“Happy birthday,” Mr. Hunk Construction Worker, Liz and I replied in unison.

“Can I warm this one up for you?” she asked him, as she took the blueberry muffin from the display case.

“Sure,” he said.

By then I had decided on a poppyseed muffin and informed Ms. It’s My Birthday Barista of my choice. She placed the two muffins on a flat wooden paddle, a pizza peel, to go into the pizza oven. Apparently, the coffee shop wafts with pepperoni and marinara sauce in the afternoons, as it doubles as a pizza joint.

A small tv hanging from the wall was blaring in the corner of the tiny coffee bar. Liz and I agreed that the noise and distraction wouldn’t be conducive to inspiration.  Maybe the fresh sea air would. When the muffins were warmed Ms. It’s My Birthday Barista gave Mr. Hunk Construction Worker his muffin first.  He handed back the two bites missing chocolate chip one and she placed it on the brick counter just outside the oven. My friend, Liz and I got our breakfast orders and proceeded outside to the patio. 

We sipped, we ate and we wrote, listening to the waves while shooing the resident birds from our table. A man, with his pants two sizes too big, came over to our table with a jar. “It’s my breakfast,” he uttered.

“Oh, what’s in it?” I asked.

He moved the jar closer to our table so I could get a clearer look of its contents. “I warmed it up in the microwave. Don’t usually bring my breakfast here but decided to today.”

Liz and I studied the used mayonnaise jar held near our faces with his dirt crusted fingernails. Inside were chunks of potatoes, broccoli and Brussel sprouts floating in an oily dressing. Mr. Pants Too Big turned toward the entrance of the café with his breakfast jar near his body and walked into the coffee shop. Liz and I rolled our eyes in unison, shrugged our shoulders and smiled. After Mr. Pants Too Big was gone, Liz said, “I think we can get lots of inspiration from this place.” I agreed.

Mr. Pants Too Big got a large coffee, walked past us, and placed it on a wrought iron table outside the patio area where tables were set up on the sidewalk.  A couple of locals with dogs on leashes went into the tiny shop after greeting Mr. Pants Too Big. They all seemed to know one another. A man came into our patio area and sat at the table next to us, with his dog on a leash, while another man went into the coffee shop to place their order. 

By now Liz had decided we could get a lot of inspiration while eaves dropping on the locals so our ears perked up and we listened.  A lady with a dog-on-leash walked by Mr. Man Too Big with dog-on-leash to enter the establishment.  “What’s his name?” she asked, as she bend down to pat the mutt’s head.

“Tobie, he’s fourteen weeks old and I’m just starting to train him.”

“What are you working on,” asked Lady With Dog-on-Leash.

“Not jumping on people and not pooping in the house,” he said.

Liz and I frantically wrote in our notebooks, giggling.

Mr. Pants Too Big walked by, patted the dogs on leashes and pointed to his gray sweatshirt.  “That’s my name.”

“What’s your name, Sweatshirt?” asked Lady With Dog-on-Leash.

“No, Gray, like the sweatshirt,” he corrected. He skittered into the coffeeshop, turning around for one last thought, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?”

From the inside we heard, “Can I pay for a coffee refill with food stamps?”

The reply, in a sing-song voice, “They are free today. It’s my birthday.”

Mr. Pants Too Big walked out with a smile on his face and a warm refill of coffee.  He sat at his outside table greeting all passersby’s, mostly locals with dogs on leashes. He was always jovial in his greeting, cheery, unperplexed and kind. He ate the vegetables from his jar using his two longest fingers as a fork, his tongue as his napkin.

A man without a dog-on-leash walked by Mr. Pants Too Big’s sidewalk table. Mr. Pants Too Big said, “I had something for you, but I had to give it away. Isn’t it a beautiful morning?” he asked from his sidewalk perch.

Ms. Its’s My Birthday Barista came out of the shop, set the two-bites-missing chocolate chip muffin on the table next to Mr. Pants Too Big. “That’s very kind of you,” he acknowledged.

While Liz and I sat eaves dropping and writing, Mr. Pants Too Big carried on conversations with anyone and everyone. His words were welcoming, happy, and carefree.

That day, my inspiration wasn’t in the waves, in the wind, in the birds, in the sea air, or in the sun smiling in my face. Instead, it came from strangers.

I realized I needed to take a break, take a recess from responsibilities, from the chatter on the tv, from the noise and the chaos of gun shootings and fires and politics, from the stresses of trying too hard to make words spew from disjointed connections. I just needed to breathe and to listen.  I needed to be a little more carefree with a hint of careless. My inspiration sailed in on the wings of strangers and one man I called, Mr. Pants Too Big.  His happy-go-lucky inner spirit flowed thru my veins, into my hands, putting words into sentences, and onto pages.

Isn’t it a beautiful day?

Memory Letters May 2019

Anna  stared up into the gnarly branches of the old oak tree in her backyard and raised her glass in celebration.  Resting atop the outdoor wrought iron table was a second glass of the cool, amber-colored wine.  Anna peered down at the glass.  A smile lit her face as she gently clinked the wine glasses together.  “Good evening, Ted.  I wanted to celebrate with you tonight.  It’s cocktail hour, you know.  Five o’clock right on the dot.” She closed her eyes.  Tears welled in their corners.

“Damn, I miss you so much.  Wait. No. No.  This is a celebration, don’t cry,” she reprimands herself.  She opens her eyes and blinks away the salty tears.  “Let me start again,” she says to the stoic, stationary wine glass. She inhales the crisp September air.  “Dear Ted.  I have some wonderful news.  Our youngest is engaged.  He asked Stephanie to marry him.  I’m thrilled.”  She took a deep breath, the corners of her lips turning up in a grin.  “You would be excited too.”

The leaves on the oak tree quivered in the breeze. Anna took a long sip of her chardonnay and let its warmth start to ease the muscles in her shoulders. She sat her glass down and reached across the table, then lifted Ted’s glass to her lips.  “Let me tell you about Stephanie so you can join in the toast.” Her gaze softened as she looked into the air, seeing no one but aware that Ted would hear her.  “I’ve met Stephanie several times.  Michael brought her over for a summer barbecue.  She seems like a very nice girl.  She’s funny and bright.   Her hair is long, almost to her waist.  It’s sort of a fawn-brown color.  She’s nearly as tall as Michael, maybe 5’10” or so.”

Anna turned her attention to the wine glass in her hand. “Ok. Now you may join me in the toast. Let’s enjoy our intimate celebration.” She lifted Ted’s glass higher and announced, “To Michael and Stephanie.”  Her lips tenderly touched the rim of the glass.  She took a long, slow sip of wine, gingerly sat the glass down and turned her gaze upward toward the cloudless, baby-blue sky.

 Anna sat still, silently for a few minutes; tranquil with her innermost thoughts. Her attention turned back to Ted’s wine glass on the table.  “Ted, I have some other exciting news.”  She giggled to herself.  “I went to the doctor’s yesterday.  Apparently, I’m in fine shape for an old lady.  I do need to go on cholesterol medication but my blood pressure is fine. That’s not the best news yet.  Remember how I’ve always complained to you that I needed to lose ten pounds?  Well, Dr. Ryan said I don’t.  In fact, he said I’m just fine at my weight and he wouldn’t want me to lose any weight.  So, after twenty years of troubling about losing those last ten pounds, I no longer have that burden.  I wish I had come to that conclusion years ago.   You always told me I was perfect the way I was.  Now, I can finally check that off my bucket list and stop fretting.  So, you were right all along.”  She grinned.

She reaches for her wine glass on the other side of the table and leisurely drinks.  Her thoughts start to soften and melt into the comfort of the past, an afterglow feeling of love and tenderness.  She fells Ted’s energy all around her and inhales his presence.  She whispers into the soothing breeze, “I so adored you having a green thumb.”  The vegetable garden is barren now.  She had neither the energy nor the heart to plant a garden. “I am grateful for all it produced, the heirloom tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, carrots and radishes.  Thank you for all those summer harvest nights when we made salsa together; blanching the tomatoes and peeling the skins off.  Oh, what a mess we made.” She is still as her thoughts drifted back to the kitchen.

In her crackly voice she whispers, “Thank you. I am so grateful that you loved me, even when I didn’t make it easy.” 

“I have a thought I wanted to run past you.” She chuckles thinking how ironic to run something past someone who isn’t there in person. But she doesn’t need his physical being to talk to him now.  She spoke to him often in this way.  “So, I want to write Memory Letters to our children.  I’m not sure if I’ll present them directly to the kids or leave them to find in the will.”  She paused. “I know you think it might be a corny idea but I’m going to do it and I need your help.”

She straightens her back, hardens her gaze and stares forward. “Yes, your help.”  She swallows another taste of wine and reaches for his.  She lifts it toward the direction he would be sitting if he were there. “Yes, I need you to help me.  I want the kids to know how much we love them, how grateful we are to have them, to tell them the little things they may not remember about their childhood that brought us joy.  Our memories, yours and mine; something they can hold onto when, um, when I’m not here.”  She brings his glass to her lips and slowly sips. “Things like your arm tenderly resting on Karen’s back in the bassinet by our bed. You were her protector from the very day we brought her home. I noticed it when I got up in the middle of the night. I want to share that memory with her.  I want to write about it, put it down on paper so it doesn’t get lost.”

Anna hesitates and runs her fingers through her fine, curly hair, silver-gray peeking through at her temples.  “I guess there’s more I have to tell you.”  She turns her head away from the table and gazed out at the newly manicured lawn. “There’s more to the story about seeing Dr. Ryan.” She exhaled loudly, cleansing all air from her chest. “I went to see him for a check-up, and because I’ve been forgetful lately.  It’s hard to describe what’s been happening to my thoughts.  It’s as if my grip on the reins of my memory is weakening. Lately, I’ve become quite forgetful.  Sometimes I even let my memory reins slip because it’s too much work to clutch tightly, hold on, find the word, or figure out what I was about to say.”  She looked down at her sturdy, Clark’s leather sandals. “So, now I’ve said it. Ted, I’m actually a wee-bit scared. Dr. Ryan says it might be something as simple as vitamin B deficiency, or it might be depression, but he wants me to have a memory evaluation and brain scan too.”

She listens to the whisper of the wind, feeling the coolness on her arms, then shakes her head back and forth. “No, I haven’t told the kids yet. There’s nothing to tell them right now.  Hence, I want to write down our memories with your help, which I sincerely need.”  She slowly rises from the table and steps toward the back door. She turns back toward the table. “Don’t start yet. Let me go get some paper and a pen so I can write down a list of memories.  From that list, I’ll write the Memory Letters.”


 

 


One Scoop or Two - May 2018

 

April Lynn got her first job at sixteen, scooping ice cream.  After two weeks, she got her initial paycheck.  Other than her car insurance and some prompting from her mother to save some money for a rainy day, she could spend her new found wealth as she wished.

On this particular chilly, rainy night, wanting something warm and knowing that her hunger would not be satisfied with her regular dinner of two scoops of Rocky Road on a waffle cone, she stopped at McDonald’s on her way to work and bought a Happy Meal.  With her warm dinner neatly tucked in the seat next to her, she drove her old, beat up, Chevy pick-up truck to work.

As she approached the last turn, before entering the parking lot at Lloyd’s Ice Cream Parlor, she noticed a man on the street corner.  His head and arms stuck out of the black plastic garbage bag he wore to protect him from the rain.  His hair and beard were nappy and kinked in wild directions.  His tattered, rag-like jeans protruded from the bottom of the garbage bag and his filthy tennis shoes were no match for the puddles of rain.  He pushed a shopping cart stuffed with plastic grocery bags bulging with all of his worldly possessions, walking on his trip to nowhere.

April Lynn passed the man and entered the parking lot, but instead of parking, she turned her old brown truck around and headed back to the corner.  She parked, got out, leaned over, and picked up her Happy Meal.  Tentatively, she walked over to the worn-down man and handed it to him without saying a word.

“Thank you,” he mumbled.

She was ready to go to work now.

That night was tediously slow.  Not many people were in the mood for ice cream on this autumn rainy night.  Starving the waves of boredom, she wiped off the tables again and again.  The place was spotlessly clean.  She went back behind the counter to count down the last ten minutes of her shift, and double check, to make sure everything was put away for the night.

Just then, the bell on the door jangled as it was opened.  April Lynn smelled the rank odor before she saw him.  It was the man from the street.  Presumably it had stopped raining as his make-shift; garbage-bag rain coat had disappeared.  His sweat induced, rotten stench made the entire parlor reek. His soggy, filthy tennis shoes squeaked as he shuffled toward the counter.

 “I’d like two banana milkshakes,” he mumbled.

“Two?” She asked.

“Yes, two.  One for me and one for my friend Charlie.”

April Lynn wondered how this man was going to pay for his order, but she couldn’t justify asking him.  She went ahead and made the shakes. 

As April Lynn placed the shakes on the counter to ring them up, the unnamed man asked, “How long have you worked here?”

“Two weeks.”

He looked confused as he mumbled. “Do I know you?”

“No, I don’t think so.” What was April Lynn to say?  Well, yes.  I’m the girl who gave you the Happy Meal earlier tonight.

The filthy man reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He gave her the exact amount.  He picked up his banana shakes and hobbled back to the door but he paused at the last table, and put his milkshakes down. He turned back around to the counter, and stared at the jar next to the register marked, “TIPS”.

He approached the jar.

“Who are those tips for?” he asked.

She timidly replied. “Well, um, well, they’re for me.”

“For you? Just you?” He asked.

Quietly, she answered, “Yes.”

April Lynn was more frightened now.  She mustered up the nerve and said, “I’m sorry, we’re closing now.”

The man mumbled something inaudible.  Then, he reached into the pockets of his raggedy faded jacket and pulled out some coins.  He placed them in the tip jar.  And then he reached into his pockets again and again, each time retrieving more coins and placing them in the tip jar.  He turned his jacket pockets inside out, assured that all his coins, all the money he had was in her tip jar.  He looked at April Lynn’s badge with her name engraved on it. He gazed straight into her clear blue eyes and said, “There is something special about you April Lynn, something very special.  Have a nice life.”

He turned and shuffled back toward the door.  He picked up his shakes, balancing one on top of the other, opened the door and left.

Tears welled up in April Lynn’s eyes as she locked the door behind him. 

Her shift was over.  Her tip jar and her heart were full.


You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Long White Dresses

There were three, each pearly white, each floor length, each purchased for one special day.  That’s where their similarities ended.

            The first, my mom bought for me.  We found it tucked in the back of a strip-mall store smashed among the other discounted prom dresses.  I could see why no one would pick a white gown as a prom dress but it would be perfect for my special day.  The dress, simple and understated, was made of a satiny material that had an almost invisible lace design on it.  Its modestly scooped neckline was tied at the empire waistline by a one-inch-wide satin ribbon which attached in a bow at the back.  It had no sleeves.  It fit my slim young body beautifully.  The only alteration it required was shortening the length.  Mom could do that.  She offered to buy me the dress.  With my siblings’ mouths to feed and a mortgage to pay, I knew it would be a stretch for her dwindling budget, even at $29.99.  Secretly, I wondered if my other wedding expenses would deplete Mom’s finances and our PG&E would be turned off again but she insisted on splurging for a decorative rose petal and fake pearl hair comb.  She would stitch on two layers of Tulle to make my veil.

            I eagerly walked down the aisle in an exquisite church passing pews decorated with Mom-hand-made ribbons; to the man I had fallen in love with and known since my sophomore year in high school.  He was handsome, quiet, easy and hard-working; simple and understated like my dress.

            Our reception was held in a hall adjacent to a bowling alley but it made no difference to me where we celebrated as long as the people we loved were there.  They were; many of them had gathered early that morning at our house to prepare little triangle sandwiches with the crusts cut off which we were going to serve at our reception.   I don’t remember much about the other food they prepared but the hit was a free-flowing champagne fountain.  Decadent for us and our extended family. 

            Life as a married couple was blissful, nurturing and fun.  We nested together in our little apartment and worked hard while saving for our own home.  Within ten years, three daughters blessed our lives and I could not have been happier.  I thought our marriage was wonderful until it wasn’t.  Then my life, as I had planned, abruptly halted.  My security blanket was tattered and torn at the seams and my self esteem dripped down the drain.  We divorced.

            The second one he bought for me at Neiman Marcus in San Francisco.  We found it in the Junior Summer-Dress-Section.  It had two layers; a rich, silky-smooth satin sheath covered in a delicate lace over-dress.  It had off-the-shoulders cap sleeves and a deeply scooped neckline which was very revealing especially with my full pregnancy breasts.  I refused to buy a strapless bra since I knew that my extra endowments would go away shortly after birth and nursing.  The bodice was synched high in the waist with folds, pleats and tucks allowing for extra lace to drape in front of my expanding waistline.  It was decadent, flashy, sexy, layered and complex, just like my soon-to-be husband.

            We drove to Tahoe, just the two of us, in his tomato-red Porsche stopping at the first wedding chapel over the state line.  Outside, a wooden gazebo offered picturesque views of the snow-topped mountains.  An officiant, whom neither of us had ever met, married us.  His wife was a witness. The day was crisp and clear with an ocean-blue sky but in the distance I could see dark clouds threatened rain.  My wavy chocolate-brown hair hung loosely down my back.  As I stood goose-bumpy under the gazebo in my high-priced, sexy, off-the-shoulder gown my stomach churned.  Was it the baby or an unconscious warning of the turbulence ahead?  I knew deep in my heart that, instead of saying, “I do” I should have been saying, “I don’t” but with the baby coming I felt it was the “right” thing to do.

            I spent the next year alternating between sipping expensive champagne from crystal flutes on the beach mid-week, to delicately, egg-shell-tiptoeing around broken glass and land mines that I hoped would not explode, unleashing his volatile erratic temper.  After a bunch of bumps, a ton of bruises and a couple broken bones I escaped.  

            Unlike the first dress, which I saved in the unlikely event one of my daughters wanted to wear it; this dress went into the trash can.

            The third one I shopped for at David’s Bridal Shop before he even asked me the big question but I knew he would.   We had spoken generically about it but I also knew he wanted to wait at least two years after the passing of his first wife to get engaged.  I could tell this man was a real keeper.  Everyone surrounded him with love and respect including his deceased wife’s family.  He was firm yet fair, nurturing to his children and his other relationships and had a wicked sense of humor that made me belly-laugh out loud. 

            The dress I bought ended up being the first of many I had tried on.  My girlfriends commented that I looked like a princess in it.  My life over the last couple of decades had been anything but princess-like.  I was exhausted from raising four daughters, exhilarated from re-inventing and expanding my career while tormented, dodging bullets from Mr. Ex.  Selfishly I wanted something just for me.  I wanted to be a real-life princess even if only for a day. 

            The dress had a creamy white lace halter top with a high neckline.  (At nearly fifty years of age I wanted to show off my sexy shoulders, not my droopy breasts.)  The full skirt was multi-layered and swished when I walked like the ladies in the old westerns which my soon-to-be husband loved.  It was well made.  The abundant skirt material was sturdy yet soft and it would hold up to any reception mishaps, heavy partying or into-the-night tabletop dancing.   It, too, was a keeper.

            There were no alterations needed on this dress, except I wanted it shorter to show off my two-inch-high clear princess slippers.  They made it look as if I were floating on air when I walked down the white carpeted aisle runner underneath the huge tent in our back-yard.  I was floating with elation.  For the crowning accent I choose a rhinestone tiara.  It doesn’t get any more princess-like than that. 

            The minister who married us was the same one who had married Steve the first time.  Relatives and friends from our combined one hundred years sat in rows of white chairs to celebrate with us.  Friends for life.  In the first row were our six children and my mother.   Finally, I was on a pedestal. 

            In the last twelve years I’ve spent my fair share of time on that riser and so has Steve.  Maybe that’s why our marriage works.  That and the fact that I know I can always dust off my tiara in an emergency. 

            This dress hangs regally in our closet.

The Sand Sweeper    

His eyelids quiver before the sun crests in the distant horizon.  Hector unfurls from his spooned wife; tiptoes in the dark and readies for work. His chocolate-brown skin, inherited and sun-deepened is now clad in shorts and t-shirt; flip flops as his foundation.  With Gatorade, lunch and fresh clothes stuffed in his backpack he peddles his rickety, rusty bike six miles to a distant world.  After placing his belongings in an outside, tarnished, unlocked-locker Hector gathers his morning tools; a rectangular cage-like contraption and a broom.  Then, after moving several beach lounges, he meticulously pulls the wire contraption through the sand, smoothing any left-over lines with worn broom bristles. Successfully, he erases the evidence of all former bare-footed beach dwellers providing a clean slate for bikini-clad, “cerveza-carrying” tourists.

            The sand-sweeper returns his tools to the crowded shed of throwback gear of yesteryear.  Listening to the rolling waves and swallow-songs he settles on a picnic bench shaded by a Banana tree.  With his eyes closed, dripping of sweat, he inhales the salty air deep into his lungs and takes a swig of lime-green colored Gatorade.  His morning chores are done; time for food, a shower and a change of clothes.           

            Dressed in Khaki shorts and off-white, collared golf-shirt with “Paraiso” embroidered on pocket, Hector saunters over to the thatched-roof bar and collects a round tray.  Sighting a bathing-suit-clad woman lounging under the protection of an umbrella he walks up to me and cheerfully says, “Hola.  Good Morning, Senorita.  May I offer you a morning beverage?  Perhaps a Bloody Mary or a Margarita?”  I recognize the merry sand-sweeper from earlier this morning.  I smile up at him through reading glasses.  “Why not?  Sure, I’ll have a morning Margarita.”

 

 

Reflection - February 1, 2018

She’s a constant in my daily routine, someone who starts my morning off with just the right amount of enthusiasm, not overly zealous and loud, nor sleepy and uninspired. She’s like the first spring-flower, cheery and bright, the one that brings a smile to your face knowing warm weather and bright flowers are upon us.

Today, like most, after my daughter waves good-bye through the window pane of the school bus, I traipse around the towering old homes in my neighborhood in Victoria.  After my walk, I know I will be greeted, with a pleasant daffodil smile, a warm latte, a muffin, and the quiet of the intimate coffeehouse where I’ll read the Times Colonist at my leisure.

Hidden behind the ebony-dyed hair, tattooed arms, and fake diamond stud in her right nostril, is her merry voice welcoming me each morning as she asks, “The usual?” But today is different. Something is off.  My friendly barista doesn’t look directly into my eyes. Her tone is dull and muddled as she inquires, “The usual?”  She drops her head slightly, her mid-length black hair normally tied behind her head, now flows freely about her cheeks.

“Yes, the usual,” I answer.  She lifts her head slightly. Barely peaking through her thick make-up I notice a burnt orange-hued bruise around her eye.  Today, her tatted arms are covered in a long-sleeved black blouse. I wonder.  I want to ask her what happened, but I don’t.

As she tries to hand me my drink, I wrap both my hands around hers.  She’s still holding the cup.  Sheepishly, she looks up at me. I am careful with my question. I know what it’s like to hide, to deny, being afraid and embarrassed.  I lean in and whisper “Are you okay?”

Tears form in the corners of her eyes. Gingerly, she squeezes my hand.  Softly, haltingly, she answers, “Yes.” But I notice that her head tentatively shakes no. The twang of the bell on the door announces new customers have arrived. Abruptly, she releases my hand and turns toward them with a subtle greeting.

I sit. I sip.  And I pretend to read the paper, but I cannot concentrate. I can’t focus on the news of the day when my news is that something is very wrong at my coffee shop, very wrong with Ebony.  I take the napkin, soiled from the muffin crumbs, and write down my name and number. I walk over to the counter. She turns and I hand the folded napkin to her.  “If you need anything, you can give me a call. I’ve written down my number.” Ebony takes the napkin and places it in her jeans front pocket.

I have trouble sleeping that night. I wonder what happened to Ebony. I’m pretty sure she’s hiding something. When I had black eyes and bruises, I tried to hide them too. Ebony is a reflection of me years ago; hiding, embarrassed, and ashamed.  I hope she calls. 

The next morning, instead of taking the circuitous route through my neighborhood, I walk straight to my local coffee shop. Ebony isn’t there. Instead there is a twenties-something girl with dark blond hair rubber-banded neatly out of her face, behind her head.  She doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know my order, my usual. More importantly, she doesn’t know what happened to Ebony.

I miss Ebony.  I miss her spring-flower morning voice. I wonder if I could have helped. I wish I had done more. I wish she had called. Damn.

#NOMORE

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